Anyone who has traveled on Highway 49 West through the Mississippi Delta has seen Larry Grimes’ work. His home is on the east side of the road, about halfway between Parchman Penitentiary and Rome, Mississippi. Grimes’ home is the only house for miles each way, and the place beckons like a neon sign. You notice the high security fence first, then the modest house and its cluttered yard, but then you see them: those glorious handmade metal sculptures standing at attention along the fence line. It might take a little slowing down to see the treasures within, but once they’re spotted, you’ll want to turn back around for another look.
Grimes is a Mississippi native. Born in Greenville in 1952, he made his way through the sixth grade, earned an honest living, and served in Vietnam. When he returned home to the Mississippi Delta after the war, Grimes looked for a way to occupy his mind. After sorting through a junk pile one day, he picked up a welder, and his unique metal figures were born. Using everything from ironing boards to sewing machines, shovelheads, to chandeliers, Grimes gives each of his life-sized figures a special character all its own. Some figures are representations of friends or neighbors; others are caricatures of politicians and celebrities. All of them are ingenious creations made entirely of recycled materials and brightly painted to further enhance the personality of the piece.
In this part of the Delta, Grimes’ work is so well known that friends and strangers regularly drop off materials for him to work with. Whether it’s a neighbor who just took down a metal fence or a stranger who knows some metal pipes will be put to good use, scores of folks stop to drop their junk off—or simply heft it over Grimes’ fence—to leave their scraps in good hands.
Grimes is not the only one in his family who is creative; he has taught his children to see art in the junk pile. His children pick out pieces of scrap metal and bundles of wire, letting them arrange the pieces however they want, and then Grimes welds them together.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, Grimes doesn’t sell his work, although his work has been spotted in galleries. He says that his wife has been known to sell a piece or two when he’s not there. But if you take the time to pay him a visit, Grimes will share a few stories, talk about his work, and introduce you to the figures along the fence.